Thursday, February 12, 2015

Discarded Batteries Can Help Light Up India

Discarded Batteries Can Help Light Up India 
Syed Ali Mujtaba

India is power starved country. There are ways and means being searched to get round this problem. In the high profile visit of the US president Brack Obama, Prime Minister Narander Modi told the nation that a breakthrough in nuclear energy has been made. The   Civil -Nuclear deal with the US is soon on anvil and India will become a power surplus nation.

There was all round applause and clap from the countrymen on this achievement. But soon it turned out to be a case where the distance between the cup and the lip has to be traveled. Soon the energy euphoria paled into oblivion.

Unfazed by such hype and hoopla about creating alternative to power shortage, a band of researchers from IBM India has demonstrated a low-cost solution to solve the problem of unavailable electrical power in the country.

The researches have demonstrated lighting solution using discarded laptop batteries and claim their device “UrJar” can lighten urban slums and rural areas for about four hours each day. UrJar has the capacity to last for more than a year.The researchers found that 70 percent of discarded batteries had enough power to keep a LED light lighted at least few hours in the night everyday.

The IBM group, working with a hardware Research and Development firm RadioStudio, opened the discarded laptop battery packaging and extracted individual storage units called cells.They tested 35 cells individually to pick out the good ones and recombined them to form refurbished battery packs.

After adding charging dongles as well as circuitry to prevent overheating, the researchers gave them to users in Bangalore city who lived in slums or operated sidewalk carts.

Three months later, the street vendors that used the light powered refurbished battery cells, said the battery packs were working very well. Similarly, other users too extolled the performance of the device and were happy about its usage. However, the main request from all them was, to have rat-resistant wires and much brighter bulbs. The IBM team is now testing on the revised setup and coming up with new refurbished Urjar devise.

The IBM team that created the device UrJar, uses lithium-ion cells from the old batteries to power low-energy devices such as a light. The combination of LED lights with solar panels and rechargeable batteries using discarded batteries has made the device much cheaper. The researchers estimate that if UrJar is made in large volume, it can be priced at about 600 rupees per unit.

UrJar provides a cleaner and potentially cheaper alternative than burning kerosene.  Using discarded batteries is cheaper than the existing power options. This could be the cheapest means to meet the lighting requirements because the most costly component is the battery, and here it’s taken from trash that is free.

UrJar provides a means to utilize the latent residual capacity in laptop batteries, which would otherwise be wasted. It helps deal with the mounting electronic-waste problem in the country.  UrJar has the potential to channel e-waste towards the lessening of energy poverty.

E-waste is a major problem particularly in the developing country like India. With a booming IT market, India is generating huge amount of e-waste of its own. This is estimated to be around 32 tons a day. Apart from this, India receives a lot of e-waste from other countries.

Many of the estimated 50 million lithium-ion laptop batteries discarded every year could provide electricity storage sufficient to light homes of the poor in the country.

In India alone, about 400 million people lack grid-connected electricity. Millions of batteries discarded with computers have more than enough life to solve the problem of lighting home in the country.

IBM is not considering this as a business proposition but says the technology could be offered free to poor of the country living in slums and other places.

Indians cannot wait for Civil – Nuclear deal to fructify. Now they have options in hand. UrJar only needs a bit of government support.  Can Prime Minister Narander Modi adopt this made in India invention in his Make in India vision? If he does so, it may be quicker way to lighten homes in the country.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at


No comments: